Before and during the election campaign, there had been widespread criticism of Mr Martin’s failure to order candidates to stand aside so the party’s low percentage vote would not split. High profile electoral casualties of this two-candidate strategy were Mary Hanafin and Barry Andrews in Dun Laoghaire and Denis O’Donovan and Christy O’Sullivan in Cork South West.
Speaking from Cork City Hall after he topped the poll in Cork South Central, the party leader accused political pundits of “overplaying” the need to reduce candidate numbers.
“That doesn’t stack up really. If you don’t have enough votes in the first place, there’s not a whole lot you can do. And in fact in some constituencies having two candidates is working for us in some respects, given geography where you have urban and rural. If you didn’t have a candidate on the rural side, you’d fall in that,” he said.
“We wouldn’t be in percentage terms where we are with reduced candidate number. You take Cork South West, or take Cork East, I think if you ran one candidate in each of those, given the outgoing TDs we had, there’s no evidence that we would have increased the vote,” he said.
Mr Martin described the weekend result as “a very, very disappointing day for the Fianna Fáil party” but pointed towards the future and a rejuvenation of the party. He pointed to job losses, the arrival of the IMF, the recent budgets and the public service levy as reasons why voters deserted Fianna Fáil.
“Having travelled the country in this campaign, I am confident that there is a base there and a framework to renew the party, not to renew the party for its own sake, but to re-engage and reconnect and restore the trust with the Irish people,” he said.
“We will work on that; we will be radical in the next Dáil. We will be constructive and we will support the needs of the Irish people, in terms of how we behave politically in the next Dáil,” he said.
“I’ve been a radical person all my life. You can go through any ministry I’ve been in and you’ll see things that are different. I was never afraid to take radical departures in various policy positions. And now that I’m leader of Fianna Fáil you can expect to see more of that as well,” he said.
Mr Martin said he and the party “will reflect on not just the election itself, but on the previous few years”.
He pointed to the performance of 24-year-old Mayo candidate Lisa Chambers, who polled 3,000 votes in her first electoral contest, and Robert Troy, a Mullingar councillor in his 20s who also contested this election, and said he was heartened by the support he had received during the campaign from Ógra Fianna Fáil. “There’s a lot of talent out there and the opportunity will come their way now,” he said.
“We’ve lost some very distinguished people — the likes of Martin Mansergh, a man who has made a huge contribution to public life and who I think will continue to do so as a member of the party.”